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Corruption Watch: September 26, 2002

26 September 2002, Volume 2, Number 34
By Roman Kupchinsky

The head of the Interior Ministry's Criminal Police, General Mikhail Nikoforov, on 19 September announced in St. Petersburg the names of the suspects wanted in connection with the murders of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova and St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Manevich, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Nikoforov, information indicates that two Russian citizens identified only as Stekhnovskii and Musin were involved in the 1998 Starovoitova murder. Musin is known to be hiding abroad, according to ITAR-TASS. An international search warrant has been issued in their names.

He then mentioned two other suspects being sought in connection with the Manevich slaying in 1997. "There is also information," Nikoforov said, "that citizens Kolyagin and Maksimov were involved in the murder of Mikhail Manevich."

On the night of 20 November 1998 in St. Petersburg, Starovoitova, an impassioned human rights activist, feminist, and pro-democracy advocate in the Russian Duma, and her aide, Ruslan Linkov, were heading up the staircase of her apartment building when they were ambushed and shot. In a manner similar to the contract killings that have plagued Russia for the last several years, the guns (a Beretta and an Agram 2000 automatic pistol -- types of weapons that had previously not been used in Russian contract killings) were left at the scene and the killers fled to a waiting car. Starovoitova, co-chairwoman of the Democratic Russia party, was pronounced dead at the scene. Linkov survived with injuries to the head and neck. He remembers seeing two people: a man and a woman.

The killing shocked and enraged not only her constituency in Russia, but many in the West as well. Russian authorities responded quickly by assigning the investigation of the murder to Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and Vladimir Putin, then director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), who arrived in St. Petersburg the day after the killing. However, within a few months, reports were emanating from Russia claiming that not all was right with the investigation.

Linkov meanwhile charged that FSB and police investigators were more interested in smearing Starovoitova and her allies than in solving the crime. Linkov claimed in the spring of this year that investigators had not discussed the case with him nor conducted any interrogations for some two years. The FSB did not comment on his statement, and no new comments have been forthcoming from investigators.

Contract killings are not easy to solve in any country, and few, if any, police forces are willing to finger suspects to the press before they are apprehended. Given the complexities of the high-profile Starovoitova case, her numerous enemies, and the corrupt nature of politics and business in St. Petersburg, it is understandable that many theories have surfaced as to who ordered her killing. It also stands to reason that those who formulate such theories are inclined to accuse law-enforcement agencies of a "cover-up" if their preferred suspects are not arrested and charged with the crime.

In February of this year, Yurii Korolev, the deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's Main Criminal Police Department, told reporters that his agency has identified and issued international and Russian arrest warrants for the killers of Starovoitova and Vladislav Listev, the general director of ORT television before his 1995 murder. He noted that in both cases, the alleged killers were living abroad.

Zeljko Markovic, the chief of the Center of Public Security in so-called "Serb Sarajevo," was shot and killed outside his home in Sokoc in the early morning hours of 24 September, Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA reported. Before his appointment as head of the public security center, Markovic was the chief of border police at the border crossings of Raca, Pavlovica Most, and Karakaj. A spokesman for international high representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina Paddy Ashdown condemned the murder as the "worst kind of lawlessness" and "a brutal reminder of how far this country has to go before the rule of law is established," Reuters reported. RK

Czech Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky told an international conference in Brussels on 18 September that the country is turning from a transit country for human trafficking into a country of destination, according to CTK. He added: "Women who are smuggled via the Czech Republic come from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Vietnam and China." Meanwhile, Slovak Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky told the same conference that Slovakia is a transit country. Last year 15,000 illegal migrants, mostly from Asia, were detained on the Slovak border. RK

"It is far too late to do anything with the problem of Albanian organized crime.... These people have made their money, made their friends and will now slowly become pillars of the community," "Jane's Intelligence Review" quoted a Czech security officer as saying in its 24 September issue. Reporting on the problem of Kosovar Albanian organized-crime gangs faced by Czech law-enforcement officials, "Jane's" wrote that Albanian organized crime began operating in the Czech Republic in the early 1990s. The gangs, mostly from Kosova, dealt mainly in narcotics and human trafficking. "Jane's" cited a member of the Czech Security Information Service as saying, "The Albanians were very quick in making local contacts with local politicians, civil servants and police whose salaries are relatively low and are often willing to accept bribes in exchange for providing working papers as well as permanent residency."

It continued: "Shortly after moving into the Czech Republic, Kosovar Albanians began to buy property along the country's borders with Austria and Germany, for example in northwestern Bohemia. Apart from buying large family homes, criminal groups also began opening restaurants, cafes, pizzerias and nightclubs that often doubled as brothels and, during the war in Kosovo in 1998-99, were also used as transshipment points for arms destined for National Liberation Army (NLA) fighters in the Serbian province."

The single most important activity in which the Albanian gangs engage is heroin trafficking into the Czech Republic, which serves as a type of transit center for heroin destined to other parts of Europe. Some of the more successful gang members have recently decided to legitimize their money and are now seeking to become law-abiding members of Czech society, "Jane's" wrote. RK

LUKoil First Vice President Sergei Kukura, the No. 2 person in Russia's largest oil company who was kidnapped on 12 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002), was released by his as-yet-unidentified kidnappers on 25 September, Russian news agencies reported on 26 September. Reports about the release -- including the motive for the kidnapping, the identity of the kidnappers, and the conditions under which Kukura was released -- varied widely. "Kommersant-Daily" cited unnamed investigators working on the case as saying the kidnapping was staged by LUKoil itself for internal reasons. reported that the abduction was genuine and that LUKoil paid a ransom of $3 million and 3 million euros to secure Kukura's release. expressed skepticism over the entire incident, arguing that the commercial secrets that Kukura possesses are worth billions of dollars, not millions. The website concluded that it is very unlikely we will ever hear the true story about this case from investigators or anybody else. Kukura was abducted by a group of armed men at a railroad crossing near Moscow on the morning of 12 September, and his bodyguard and driver were given injections that knocked them out. The attackers drove off in a car with police license plates, investigators said. According to "Izvestiya," the kidnappers targeted Kukura because of his wealth. The executive's monthly salary is $1.8 million dollars and his total income amounts to 50 million dollars a year, according to the Russian media. AFP reported on 23 September that the criminal explanation does not convince everyone. Writing in the 25 September issue of "The Moscow Times," Yuliya Latynina wrote: "Kukura is privy to all of LUKoil's financial secrets. And the finances of Russian companies do not flow in a straight line -- they go via Cyprus." VY/RK

A bulletin sent out by the FBI to local law-enforcement officials links Chechen fighters to the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 19 September. The FBI memo states that Al-Qaeda planned to use Muslims of "non-Arabic appearance," including extremists from Chechnya, to hijack a commercial airliner in the United States. An FBI spokesman said, however, that the media "made more of the bulletin than it was worth." "It was routine information sent out to local law enforcement and reiterating past information," the FBI spokesman told "The Moscow Times" of 20 September. He added that the bulletin was not intended for public release.

Russian security services have maintained that Al-Qaeda has been active in supporting Chechen fighters in Russia and has recruited members from among them. In the past, the FBI has acknowledged that view, and a number of Russian citizens are being held in detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for alleged links to the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. RK

The Moscow-based daily "Rossiyskaya gazeta" printed an interview on 14 September with Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov in which he discusses crime, terrorism, and the lax attitude in Russia toward storage of weapons and explosives. Some of his statements were as follows: "We are concerned by the surging levels of armed crime and illegal trade in arms, ammunition, and explosives. Careless storage of weapons makes them accessible to criminals. In Russia recently, one has observed a dangerously carefree, if not neglectful, attitude towards to the safe storage and handling of arms and ammunition, which makes it easier for terrorists and criminals to acquire them.

"In the past several years, the number of crimes involving the use of combat weapons has increased by 50 percent in Russia. As of 1 September, 134,000 units of arms, including 57,000 units of rifled weapons, were on a federal search list. We estimate that the Russian population illegally possesses several hundreds of thousands of small arms.

"The main channel through which explosives are supplied into illegal trade still is their stealing at military, industrial, and storage facilities and on drilling and blasting sites. In 2001, more than 1,400 kg of explosives and about 9,000 explosive assemblies were confiscated in resolved criminal cases opened on charges of illegal trade in explosives. This year, 103 tons of explosives were confiscated at the facilities belonging to the state unitary enterprise Sokol-1 in Leningrad Region. Its director was criminally prosecuted for illegal production and storage of explosives." RK

Drug-related crime, much of it grave, was reported to be on the decline according to the Russian Interior Ministry as reported by ITAR-TASS on 24 September. So far in 2002, 130,000 drug-related crimes have been committed, according to the ministry figures, a 23 percent decline from 2001. Over 16 tons of illicit drugs have been seized this year, primarily marijuana (over 8 tons), hashish oil (3 tons), and heroin (500 kilograms). RK

Reporting on the recent wave of violence in the city of Nis, close to the Serbian-Bulgarian border, the newspaper "Borba" on 18 September interviewed Bozidar Spasic, the director of the SIA detective agency. Spasic told the newspaper: "According to my information, the clashes in Nis have to do with how to share a huge shipment of drugs sitting in Bulgaria and due to enter our country in the next few days." The clashes are occurring in the area of the Romanian-Bulgarian border, on the stretch between Vrsac, Belgrade, and Nis, because there has been a certain shift in the Serbian criminal underground. The detective speculated that the violence is also connected to changes in the Surcin organized-crime clan in Belgrade. RK


By Roman Kupchinsky

U.S. administration officials have authenticated a tape made by Major Mykola Melnychenko of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma telling the head of a Ukrainian state arms-sales company to proceed with the sale of advanced radar technology to Iraq.

The United States is withholding millions of dollars in grant aid as it probes further into the issue of whether Ukraine violated UN sanctions on Iraq as a result.

The taped conversation, which reportedly took place on 10 July 2000 (see "RFE/RL Crime and Corruption Watch," 19 April 2002), has consistently been denied by the Ukrainian president despite numerous demands on the part of the West for an explanation of what was said.

The tape, including the passage on the sale of the Kolchuga radar system via the UkrSpetzExport company, was authenticated earlier this year by BEK TEK, a Virginia-based group that provides authentication services to the FBI, the U.S. Supreme Court, and other organizations.

A high-level U.S. administration official was then quoted by Reuters on 23 September as saying the Justice Department has authenticated the tape as well. The U.S. official told Reuters, "We have not physically observed the Kolchuga [radar system] in Iraq, although we have some information which I cannot get into that suggests it may be there." Experts say it would be difficult to be certain that Iraq had the Kolchuga for a number of reasons: It does not emit signals of its own; it is mobile; and it is easy to hide, involving an antenna attached to an ordinary-looking truck. The official went on to say: "We have informed the Ukrainian government and NATO allies that we have reached this assessment, that there has been a pause in certain types of assistance and that a policy review is under way."

Patricia Guy, the press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, told RFE/RL that extensive examination of the recordings has convinced the American government that they are authentic: "What is new is that we've recently concluded an analysis of a July 2000 recording that was provided by former Ukrainian presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. And on one of the tapes, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is heard approving the clandestine sale of Kolchuga early warning systems to Iraq, and we believe this recording is authentic."

Guy said the United States is withholding some of the money that it gives annually to Ukraine under the Freedom Support Act which is meant to help solidify democracy in countries: "The recording's authentication has led us to re-examine our policy toward Ukraine, and in particular toward President Kuchma. As a result we've initiated a temporary pause in new obligations of Freedom Support Act assistance that goes to the central government of Ukraine while we carry out this review."

Asked on 26 September whether he believes the timing of the American announcement was designed to influence the current political situation in Ukraine or aid the anti-Kuchma opposition, Yuriy Serheyev, state secretary at the Foreign Ministry, told RFE/RL: "We would not like to think that it is linked to the present domestic political situation. What we are really worried about in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are the outright errors made in the accusations. We are especially worried by this because it is serious -- it not only reflects badly on our image, but these accusations of impropriety cast a shadow on the long-standing relations between two serious partners."

Reuters reported that the official said the $55 million that was set aside for the central Ukrainian government as part of the "Freedom Support Act" in fiscal year 2002, which ends this month, has been put on hold. He added that further measures are being considered in a review that should last a week or two, according to the news agency.

"The New York Times" on 24 September wrote that: "The finding follows a judgment by experts at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the government that a clandestine tape recording -- in which a voice that the United States has concluded is Kuchma's is heard discussing smuggling the radar system to Iraq -- is authentic and unaltered." In the recording, the head of UkrSpetzExport is seemingly heard telling Kuchma that the operation to smuggle the Kolchuga into Iraq will be handled by Leonid Derkach, the head of the Ukrainian Secret Service. Derkach was eventually relieved of his post and is presently a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

When asked about other parts of the Melnychenko recordings, in particular those where Kuchma is heard ordering the disappearance of Heorhiy Gongadze, an independent journalist who was found murdered in September 2000, the official told Reuters that the United States has not authenticated that section of the recordings "Certainly our assessment that this Kolchuga recording is authentic colors the way that we look at the other recordings," he said, according to Reuters.

Ukraine's foreign minister, Anatoliy Zlenko, told AP on 25 September that his country's president may have authorized selling an advanced radar system to Iraq but insisted the sale -- which would have contravened UN sanctions -- never took place. Speaking to reporters in the Dominican Republic the day after the State Department announcement, Zlenko said the tape could have been made during one of the president's discussions, but that it is "impossible to sell arms in this manner."

The deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch, told a press conference in Kyiv on 25 September that the "tapes are reason enough to review our policy toward Ukraine. They show that the president personally approved the illegal sale of arms to Iraq."